About Richard Lawrence

Richard is partner at Agile For All and an agile trainer and coach. He helps teams and organizations become happier and more productive. When Richard's not working with clients, he's usually on his mountain bike with his wife and three boys.

New to Agile? Build trust to grow influence and impact

Transforming the way you work to an Agile approach has implications for the relationship between software teams and their customers and stakeholders. But in many cases, the would-be Agile team’s vision of a better collaborative future is viewed with skepticism, at best. What do you do when you want a more collaborative relationship with your stakeholders and they’re not having it? [Read more…]

80/20 Product Ownership Updates

A few updates on 80/20 Product Ownership, my online course that teaches you how to slice your work at every level of detail to get value and learning faster…

New Bonus Units

Not only do participants get lifetime access to the content, but I also try to make the course more valuable over time based on feedback I get from participants and clients. To that end, I’ve added two new bonus units to the course:

  • “Killing Sprint Zero,” which looks at the practice of Sprint 0, how it delays value and learning, and how you can minimize or eliminate it.
  • “Reporting Release Progress,” on how to report progress on larger releases to stakeholders in a useful and honest way.

Feature Mining Webinar

Of all the content in 80/20 Product Ownership, I’m most excited about Feature Mining, my technique for taking a big idea (a new product, project, release, or whatever) and finding the first high-value, high-learning slices. 80/20 PO is the only place I teach this outside of in-person training and coaching.

On September 18, I’ll be hosting a live webinar on Feature Mining for all course participants who have completed that module. I’ll share more detail and examples of the technique, answer your questions, and provide feedback on your Feature Mining examples, master class style. To join the webinar, you’ll need to have completed the Feature Mining module, including practice activities and quizzes, by September 17. For eligible participants who can’t make the live webinar, I’ll make a recording available so you can still benefit from the session.

Sign up for 80/20 Product Ownership today to join the webinar.

Remote Coaching Offer

Finally, I’m offering a special package for five 80/20 Product Ownership participants.

There’s nothing like interactive coaching to learn these techniques and apply them to your work. Right now, there are two ways to learn this content—through in-person coaching with me or through 80/20 PO on your own. To bridge that gap, I’m offering a new package called 80/20 PO Mastery that includes registration in the online course plus two 45-minute coaching calls with me to help you apply the material.

We’ll work together to schedule the calls for the most strategic times in the course based on your needs. I’ll help you get unstuck, see new ways to apply the techniques to your unique context, and stay focused as you work through the course.

If you want to go through the program with a colleague, one of you can sign up for the regular course, the other can sign up for 80/20 PO Mastery, and you can do the coaching calls together.

Sign up for 80/20 PO Mastery here before it sells out.

5 Key Skills Great Product Owners Have

Being Product Owner is hard. Actually, that’s not quite true. Anybody can make a list of things to build, call it a backlog, and bring it to a few meetings every month.

Being a great Product Owner is hard. Development skills are essential, but it doesn’t matter how fast your team delivers and how good your quality is unless you’re delivering the right thing every day. Identifying and expressing that “right thing” at every level of detail is a big job.

To improve our CSPO classes and our PO coaching, Bob and I made a tree of the skills that the best Product Owners use. While there are over two dozen skills on the tree—see, it’s not an easy job!—here are 5 you can work on to have an impact on your team right away.

Skill #1: Clearly express the connections between larger business goals and small backlog items

Many POs are good at making a business case for a project, but end up with a backlog of items that seem disconnected from that larger goal. By the time the team gets a few sprints into the project, half the team (and maybe the PO) have forgotten the business case and are just delivering on the details. They can no longer see the forest for the trees.

A great PO distills the business case into a short vision, makes it visible, and can point to it to explain every little thing on the backlog.

There are lots of ways to write a vision. One of my favorites is a variation on the elevator pitch template from Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. It goes like this:

FOR target customer
WHO need or dissatisfaction
product name IS A category
THAT key benefit (not key features, but what the features allow the customer to do).
UNLIKE alternative way of meeting the need
OUR PRODUCT how it’s better for the customer than the alternative.

Can you answer all the questions posed in this template? Could any member of your team? If not, you’d do well to fill in the template.

This doesn’t always make the most pithy, literate vision statement—it can sometimes be too formal or clumsy—but I love how it makes you answer some key questions about your product in a couple sentences. A slightly clumsy vision statement is better than none at all. And once you have a draft in this format, you can revise it read better.

Here’s an example for our Humanizing Work Conference:

FOR Agile For All alumni
WHO want to get better at their work
Humanizing Work IS AN Agile conference
THAT allows Agile For All alumni to learn advanced content from us and from other like-minded Agile practitioners.
UNLIKE a public Agile conference,
OUR CONFERENCE is built from the ground up on brain-friendly accelerated learning methods and has attendees who share a common language and understanding of the principles behind Agile (which lets every session go deeper).

This vision gives us a filter for every decision we make about the product. It prompts us to ask questions like:

  • Is that session relevant to Agile For All alumni?
  • Is it advanced content, or would they already have learned it in one of our classes?
  • Is ______ brain-friendly or just how conferences always work? Could we make it more brain-friendly?

Sometimes you have more than one kind of target customer. For the Behavior-Driven Development with Cucumber book I’m writing with Paul Rayner, we’re targeting people in four different roles who have different needs. BDD is a practice for collaborating across roles, so we have to meet the needs of all these roles. So, we drafted four parallel visions, like this:

BDD with Cucumber Book Vision

We had a client in education software who had to do this for students, teachers, and school administrators.

Once you have a vision statement, make it visible. If you’re on a colocated team, make a big poster and stick it on the wall. As a distributed team, we tend to use tools like Google Docs, Slack, and email. But when we’re together, we collaborate with paper.

Having a visible vision statement is great. But take it a step further: explicitly connect the vision to the details in your backlog. Say things like, “We’re doing this user story because it helps differentiate us from [alternative],” and, “Remember, we’re not building this story for everybody, it’s just for [your target customer], so we don’t have to do [some variation your target customer doesn’t need].”

You can practice this today:

  1. Write a vision statement if you don’t have one already. Don’t worry about making it perfect, just fill in the blanks for a first draft.
  2. Make it visible to your team. Incorporate their feedback to improve the vision.
  3. Go through the top items on your backlog. For each one, write a sentence or two explaining how that backlog item moves your product towards the vision.

Learn about the other four key PO skills »

MHA 2015 Slides: Resistance to Change Doesn’t Exist

Thanks to everyone who attended my Mile High Agile 2015 session, “Resistance to Change Doesn’t Exist.” Here are the slides and handouts:



If you missed the session, you can catch it again at Humanizing Work 2015, our alumni conference, along with lots of other great advanced content.

Splitting Stories in Chinese (or, 用户故事切分招数)

Thanks to Bob Jiang for the translation (with feedback from Evelyn Tian and Daniel Teng).


This poster is also available in English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish. You’re welcome to print copies for personal use.

For more information, see our story splitting resources page.

Why You’ll Want to Attend Humanizing Work 2015

Every year, we put on a conference just for agile practitioners who’ve been in one of our classes. Check out this 90 second video to see what makes the Humanizing Work Conference so special:

We hope you’ll join us at the next Humanizing Work Conference in July 2015. If you haven’t been in one of our classes yet, there are plenty of opportunities to attend a public CSM or CSPO, or contact us about a private Agile for Teams class for your organization.

Sign up for our conference newsletter to keep up with the latest news and to be notified when registration opens in January:

Agile Homeschool Update

Last year, I wrote about how we use an agile approach for homeschool.

Since then, we’ve refined our approach. This school year, we updated our board to reflect some of those changes. [Read more…]

Cynefin and Story Splitting

Cynefin as of June 2014 - From Dave Snowden, released under CC BY 3.0

Cynefin as of June 2014 – From Dave Snowden, released under CC BY 3.0

As I was preparing for my Agile Denver session on Unscaling, which leaned heavily on the Cynefin Framework, I reread Liz Keogh’s excellent post, “Cynefin for Devs.” I realized that I use my story splitting patterns in a few different ways depending on the domain, and I’ve never been explicit about this (which probably confuses people I’m coaching). [Read more…]

Agile Denver Session Notes: Unscaling

For those who attended last night’s Agile Denver meetup, here are the slides and some additional resources for you… [Read more…]

Scrum Basics: When Should We Schedule Sprint Transitions?

We’re often asked which day or days are best for scheduling the Sprint Planning, Review, and Retrospective meetings. [Read more…]